An accidental blog

"If God is sovereign, then his lordship must extend over all of life, and it cannot be restricted to the walls of the church or within the Christian orbit." Abraham Kuyper Common Grace 1.1.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Pagan Christianity - re-review

The nice people at have sent me a review copy of the new and expanded edition of Frank Viola’s Pagan Christianity. I reviewed the first edition here.

At first glance there are one or two changes – the cover now boasts a large ‘Pagan’ with roots growing out of it and is a major improvement on the bland green cover of the previous edition. George Barna is now a co-author, there is now a eleven-page bibliography (though only five have been written since the first edition – and of the five, four are by Barna or Viola; the rest reveal a distinct lack of primary sources). Other useful additions include a ‘delving deeper’ section at the end of each chapter, this is a brief Q&A – questions arising from the chapter are posed and answered.

The substance of the book is largely unchanged. They argue that many of church practices have their roots in paganism (he still doesn’t define what he means as pagan). There is much in this book that is insighful and helpful – he rightly identifies that much of what we do in what passes for church is not conducive to participation and interaction between fellow members of the body of Christ. My concern is that in the polemical tones of this book this message will be lost and ignored by those we need to hear it most.

The new edition has done nothing to alleviate my concerns stressed in my previous review:

It seems to me, though, that at times Viola is guilty of the genetic fallacy; it is wrong to condemn a practice based on its history, however dubious that history may be. The origin of something does not necessarily have any bearing upon its truth. Clothes are the direct result of rebellion against God – does that mean that wearing clothes is wrong? Practices must be damned or praised on their present merits not their previous history.

Why should we return to New testament models of church services or (non)buildings? Are the models intended to be normative or are they merely descriptive? Is Viola embracing some form of reverse chronological snobbery? It also assumes that we know what the first century church was like! The few glimpses we have in the New Testament hardly provide a blueprint; though they do provide some helpful pointers. And it does seem far away from what we have in the institutional churches today.

Elsewhere Viola has described what he perceives to be a NT church pattern it is broadly one that is modelled on 1 Corinthians. And I have great sympathy for this model. But how do we know if the the Corinthian model was used at Rome, Athens or Jerusalem? I suspect that the first-century practices are not quite so uniform as Viola thinks.
That said, I do believe Viola, despite the populist and polemical approach, has an important message for the body of Christ – I only hope those that need to hear it hear it and respond.


Anonymous said...

Viola and Barna actually make the point throughout the book that just because something is pagan in origin,that doesn't mean it's bad or wrong. Their point in tracing origins is to show the source because a lot Christians assume what they do is biblical. I read the footnotes carefully and that's where the first hand sources are in large measure. There's a sequel coming out in the summer that's supposed to present a case for what the first century church was like. I read about it here ;
it sounds really interesting.

Jilliefl1 said...

The sequel to “Pagan Christianity?” is out now. It’s called “Reimagining Church”. It picks up where “Pagan Christianity” left off and continues the conversation. (“Pagan Christianity” was never meant to be a stand alone book; it’s part one of the conversation.) “Reimagining Church” is endorsed by Leonard Sweet, Shane Claiborne, Alan Hirsch, and many others. You can read a sample chapter at
It’s also available on Frank is also blogging now at